A Toms River businessman took taxpayer funds and cheated his workers — many of them unauthorized immigrants who he turned into a near-slave labor force. Now he could pay the price with his liberty.

Albert Chwedczuk, 45, of Toms River, pleaded guilty to second-degree false contract payment claims after state Labor investigators uncovered his scam.

Chwedczuk is now a repeat violator of the Prevailing Wage Act.

In 2014, the state banned him from obtaining public contracts after he was convicted for violating the Prevailing Wage Act through his business, Ren Construction.

But prosecutors said he created a new company, Bella Group, and got a $400,000 subcontract to perform masonry work at the Cooper Camden Student Housing project in Camden in 2015 and 2016.

On that project, he paid workers just a fraction of what they were supposed to be earning under the law. For some workers, he didn't pay them at all, officials said.

In all, he owes workers $200,407 in back wages, which a judge could force Chwedczuk to pay in restitution when he is sentenced on Sept. 6. He also faces three years in prison.

Prosecutors say he submitted false certified payrolls and instructed employees to lie to a state Department of Labor investigator.

“When contractors receive taxpayer dollars for a public project, they promise to pay prevailing wages to employees for all their hard work. But this employer cheated his workers and hoarded public funds for his own enrichment," state Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said Wednesday. "This case is a message to all employers that we will not tolerate contractors underpaying their workers and lying about it.”

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